Hello! I miss you. I hope you're well and healthy, staying in touch with people at a rate that's acceptable for you, and that your hands aren't all cracked and dry from excessive washing.
We're doing fine here. Staying home, playing Animal Crossing or clearing movies off the DVR. Sometimes I play Pokémon Go from the car at some of my favourite parking spots. I go to Safeway every 10 days or so, and one time I went to London Drugs just to buy an uncommon size of battery for the smoke detector, which legitimately felt thrilling. (They had sugar too!) I need a haircut and I've never been so caught up on laundry.
I'm working from home, if you want to call what I do "work." It doesn't feel particularly essential at the best of times, and these aren't the best of times. At least, I really hope they aren't. But I dutifully sit at my desk in my 70s basement with my coworkers Ken and Carl (a spider plant and our fabled cat, respectively) and send out emails to tell people to watch Schitt's Creek. (Available on demand!)
It turns out that I have no opportunity to write concert reviews when there aren't any concerts. Glass Tiger, Corb Lund, and Matthew Good all cancelled. Joel Plaskett and Alice Cooper rescheduled to the fall. I can't imagine BA Johnston will be here this month, so I'm spared from feeling bad about being too tired to go. That leaves July's old-man show of Canadian 90s rock icons and SLCR veterans The Tea Party, Moist, Big Wreck, and The Headstones. I'm hopeful that we can go see at least 25% of them, but I don't expect it to happen.
Which leads me here! A lot of musicians I like are doing shows online and I'd like to signal-boost them a bit. I don't really know how many I'm going to cover or when I'm going to post this or if I'm going to do more than one. I think the review parts will be pretty short since, for the most part, you should be able to check these out yourself if you're really so inclined.
This show was recorded at Or Shalom synagogue, an appropriate venue for the klezmer half of Berner's klezmer-punk music. I suspect it hasn't played host to a lot of songs that translate into "Fuck the Police," but I don't know, I've never been to a synagogue before. Which reminds me of the time I tried to buy a button that said "Kiss me, I'm Jewish" at a garage sale because I wanted to lie for kisses, not thinking that most of the time, the owner of a "Kiss me, I'm Jewish" button would be an actual Jew, who in this case was very excited to meet me and curious as to why he'd never seen me at the synagogue before. But I digress.
Obviously, these productions won't compare to actually going out to see live music. But despite the lack of audience and minimal crew, Berner put on quite the enjoyable hour-long set. There were techs handling audio and video with minimal hiccups, and someone "who lives in my house" (a son, I think?) manning a second camera that was able to get in closer. A small touch that made this a lot more watchable by not restricting us to one static viewpoint. The sound quality was good, and Berner seemed relaxed and in good spirits, jokingly playing to the imaginary crowd and telling stories about each song.
I've seen Berner many times before and he's an acquired taste. Most of my friends who have tried to acquire this taste have failed. I watched this show with earbuds in while Mika watched TV and we were both happier that way. But who knows? Maybe you'll enjoy a lefter-than-left-wing accordion player with a wry, pessimistic sense of humour and a penchant for playing the occasional song in Yiddish. He usually translates them as he goes along, you'll be fine.
If you've got extra time to fill during this here shutdown, Ben Folds is your guy. He was supposed to be performing with Australian orchestras when this all went down. Due to ever-changing conditions, he found himself missing the window to return home to the US. No problem - he rented an apartment in Sydney, bought an electric piano and a webcam, and set up for weekly free performances every Saturday on YouTube at 5pm my time. That's 7pm Eastern and Sunday morning in Australia; you figure out the rest.
If one show a week isn't enough, sign up for his Patreon. $10/month gets you 3 additional weekly shows and 4 Rock This Bitch song downloads. (They're improvised live songs. It's a whole thing I could explain but won't.) One of the extra shows is meant for musicians and music teachers, with an over-the-shoulder view showing how he plays certain songs. In another, he makes up songs with fan-submitted lyrics. The third is a Patreon-only request show, which - unlike the others - I've actually watched. He's very game to try any song from his back catalogue, even if he has to look up the lyrics or listen to a snippet on his phone to remember what chord it's in. There's a lot of messing up and a lot of swearing.
On that note, the show linked above - his fourth weekly public concert since the shutdown - is titled "TRYING AGAIN" and opens with him on his phone, squinting at his computer, saying "the current resolution is not optimal - well then, tell me what fucking IS optimal?!" We've all been there. Ben's also currently clean-shaven because he tried to trim his beard and messed it up. Very relatable.
Between notoriously poor Australian internet - basically, it's like if my house was a country - and Folds having to do all his own setup and hands-on technical support, there can be some snafus with these. You never know when he'll switch from one of his songs to an ad-libbed musical complaint about how the pedals are sliding away and that doesn't happen with a real piano.
That said, this was a really fun show. With upgraded mics and camera, the sound and video quality have greatly improved since these began. But more importantly, Folds is a fan-friendly performer, taking requests from the illegibly scrolling chat, dropping fans' names into songs, running a drinking game (take a drink every time he messes up) (do not do this, you'll die), enjoying morning beers, and doing several greatest hits albums' worth of songs in one medley. It's intimate and unrehearsed and feels like just hanging out as much a concert.
Before this was announced, I'd actually singled out BA Johnston as someone who wouldn't be putting on streaming shows. He releases albums, sure, but you really need the full live experience to understand BA, and that includes significant crowd interaction. You need the beer and the sweat and the Cheezies and the sparklers and the screaming and the same jokes every time.
And yet, here we are. Airing live from This Ain't Hollywood in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario (and with messages of support from owners of various bars that BA frequents, including Amigo's in Saskatoon), BA did his best to put on his full live show in front of an audience of the two guys handling sound and video. The jokes, the costume changes, the whole schtick was still there. He even closed the set in the bathroom, though he did wrap things up with uncharacteristic sincerity and well wishes.
There was a long stretch of technical issues before everything began - feel free to skip that part. When they did get it working, both the sound and video were the weakest of the of the shows I've seen. Though I will say that I watched this in two halves - the first part live streaming to my TV, and the second on replay with headphones on my computer - and the sound came in a lot better on the replay. I'm not sure if the live showing was having bandwidth issues, or if I just don't expect as much coming out of a little Facebook window.
The technical issues mean that if you're new to BA Johnston, this might not be your best introduction, but that aside, it's still a night of funny, catchy songs that will stick in your head for days - classics like GST Cheque, new ones like We're All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He's Gonna Die), and even unreleased songs from his upcoming album, Werewolves of London, Ontario. Plus, you'll wind up way less sweaty than if you go see him in person, mostly because he can't sweat on you if you're watching at home on your Acer laptop.
This show was held over Zoom, that video conferencing software that was probably created by the same people who created this virus. It makes sense if you think about it. Follow the money, sheeple.
Side Door was founded by Dan Mangan to help touring musicians set up and sell tickets to house concerts. That's not happening at the moment, so it's pivoted to online shows. They're not expensive - this was $8 US - but it helps make a little money while there's no touring. A bunch of Canadian artists have been performing on there, including Terra Lightfoot, Said The Whale, Jill Barber, Danny Michel, Sarah Slean, and Mangan himself. And Steven Page. Which you likely figured out.
Zoom works well for this type of setup. The host takes up most of the screen, and viewers (at least the ones who don't turn their cameras off like I do) appear in a row of little boxes at the top of the screen, not dissimilar to a Press Your Luck board. That said, you may have heard of Zoombombing, where hackers take advantage of Zoom's many security flaws to invade conference calls. I watched Page's show last week too, and mid-song, the chat suddenly got REAL racist, and one of the video streams began showing gay porn. So that was fun. They had more moderators this week, and there are added security steps for next week's show. Which does nothing for you, since that show's already sold out, but I bet there'll be more shows, if you have eight bucks kicking around.
I had good plans to write up last week's show but then a week went by and I, uh, didn't. So you get this one instead. Both were fun, live from Page's basement with him mostly playing guitar but also on keys for a bit. The sound is pretty good; I find the video a little choppy but I also have trash internet. There were songs spanning Page's entire career, with a nice mix of Barenaked Ladies songs and all his solo stuff. Plus, since he was taking requests, it wasn't just all the hits, which is either a big positive or a big negative for you.
Since you can't just go watch this one, I'll go through the setlist:
Shoebox (if you want to feel old, sing along with "you're so 1990 and it's 1994") Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank (Page noted that this might be the first time he ever played this song solo) Manchild In The Car Break Your Heart Jane Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel (with a bit of So Political by Spirit of the West) So Young, So Wrong, So Long Over Joy The War on Drugs The Old Apartment (He messed this up over and over last week, and noted that he got requests to "play it right this week") (He messed it up again and cracked himself up real good) Powder Blue Maybe You're Right What A Good Boy White Noise The Chorus Girl (I don't know this one that well, but oh man, the chat was so happy he played this one. He talked a lot about what it was about. Then he had everyone unmuted so everyone could sing along with the "la la la" part and man, having 800+ people unmuted at once sounded like what you'd hear when you open the gates of hell. Then they tried muting everyone again - including Page - but a few people couldn't be muted and didn't know how to mute themselves and kept talking while the chat got super mad at them. Then the chat got hacked and racist.) Enid
I thought this was good fun. Mika said it was fine. The cat didn't appreciate being woken up.
This feels like a good place to stop for now. More to come.
iTunes Top Downloads -- July 31, 2016 This is a moment in time snapshot of the current top downloads from iTunes. We take a snapshot each week at the same time and post it here. To preview the songs, click on a link.